“Rich,” the suicidal airport mechanic who stole an airplane from Sea-Tac International Airport and took it on a dramatic unauthorized flight, before crashing the plane, is getting a lot of Twitter support and empathy. Rich has now been identified as Richard ‘Beebo’ Russell. You can read about his life here.
Richard Russell had a website that appears to have been for a college communications class.
“Hey all! My names Richard Russell, I’m 27 and currently living in Sumner, WA with my incredible wife Hannah. I was born in Key West, Florida, and moved to Wasilla, Alaska when I was 7. I met Hannah in Coos Bay, Oregon in 2010 while we were both going to school,” the about me section says.
Rich’s heartbreaking conversations with air traffic controllers, who tried in vain to help the Pierce County man safely land the aircraft, have sparked people on social media to emphasize with his plight and urge the country to spend more attention on mental health awareness. Rich’s full name has not been given but he was repeatedly called “Rich” in the air traffic control audio, some of which you can listen to below.
Rich was born in Key West, Florida, moved to Alaska as a child, and once ran a bakery; he dreamed of being in the military and was assigned to unload bags at the Seattle airport, but was not authorized to fly airplanes.
“I hope this prompts a nationwide discussion about mental healthcare overall. 💔” wrote one woman on Twitter, echoing the comments of many people who heard it. (If you need help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)
However, some people online are criticizing a comment that Rich made to the controller about being a “white guy.”
The man known as Rich said to dispatchers at one point, “You think if I can land this successfully, Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?” and the Air Traffic Control tower said, “I think they will give you a job doing anything if you pull this off.” He replied, “yeahhh right. Nah, I’m a white guy.”
Rich attempted “stunts” in the air before the plane crashed, authorities and multiple reports on social media said. Wrote one man on Twitter, “As horrible as this is, I have to say this: an aircraft mech pulled off a barrell roll in a twin engine turbo prop commuter plane. Speaking as someone in the industry, THAT is impressive. RIP, Rich…you lived the dream. #SeaTac.”
People were saddened after they listened to the audio.
The audio captured many tragic exchanges.
“Damnit Andrew, people’s lives are at stake here,” Rich said at one point in the audio.
“Ah, Rich, don’t say stuff like that,” the controller said.
“I don’t want to hurt no one. I just want you to whisper sweet nothings into my ear,” said Rich, who claimed he could fly the plane because he played video games.
Sea-Tac airport confirmed the plane was down a short time later. “An airline employee conducted an unauthorized takeoff without passengers at Sea-Tac; aircraft has crashed in south Puget Sound. Normal operations at Sea-Tac Airport have resumed,” the airport wrote.
The audio between the man known as “Rich” and air traffic controllers further captured his demeanor. “I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. I’m going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose I guess. Never really knew it, until now,” the unidentified man said at one point.
At one point, Rich asked for help in getting the cabin depressurized, complaining he was getting lightheaded.
“I don’t need that much help; I’ve played some video games before,” he told the controllers trying to help him. “Ah, minimum wage. We’ll chalk it up to that. Maybe that will grease the gears a little bit with the higher-ups,” he said at another point.
At another point, Rich said, “I’m down to 2100; I started at like 30-something.”
“Rich, you said you had 2100 pounds of fuel left?” the controller responded.
“Yeah – I don’t know what the burnage…is like on a takeoff but yeah. It’s burned quite a bit faster than I expected.”
The Pierce County Sheriff wrote on Twitter, “Stolen horizon airplane crashed into Ketron island. Preliminary info is that a mechanic from unknown airlines stole plane. Was doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills caused crash into Island.” The Sheriff’s Department added, “Two military F 15 chased plane but was not involved in crash” and confirmed, “No passengers on plane.”
The fighter jets were scrambled from Portland.
The Sheriff’s Department also wrote: “Told F 15s made it within a few minutes of theft of plane. Pilots kept plane out of harms way and people on ground safe. Yay air force . They may not admit for a few days. But is true..”
The man has not been named, but authorities said he was suicidal. “Male is confirmed a suicidal male. Acted alone he is 29 year old Pierce county residence. We are working back ground on him now,” the Pierce County Sheriff wrote. “This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info .. this is a single suicide male. We know who he is. No others involved.”
The airline confirmed that an “unauthorized take-off” occurred. “We are aware of an incident involving an unauthorized take-off of a Horizon Air Q400. We believe there are no passengers on board. More information as we learn more,” Alaska Airlines wrote on Twitter around 9:20 p.m. on the west coast.
People posted photos and videos to Twitter of a plume of smoke and possible crash site. One man wrote on Twitter, “Some dude stole a plane from #Seatac (Allegedly), did a loop-the-loop, ALMOST crashed into #ChambersBay, then crossed in front of our party, chased by fighter jets and subsequently crashed. Weird times.”
CBS News reporter Kris Van Cleave wrote, “FAA sources say it appears an airline employee stole a Horizon Air Turbo Prop from SeaTac and took off and crashed Ketron Island outside Seattle.” He shared a tweet from a woman named Victoria, who wrote, “Sitting on a plane at SeaTac Airport, a Horizon employee just hijacked an airplane. He is flying around the airport, he does not know how to land it. Happening right now. SeaTac airport.”
At one point in the dramatic audio, “Rich” told the tower he was losing an engine. Periodically, his voice cut into the dispatches. At one point, “Rich” (or “Rick”), said on the aviation audio, “This is probably jail time for life, huh? I would hope it is for a guy like me.” People on Twitter who were following the aviation audio reported that the man attempted a “barrel roll” with the plane at one point – or at least claimed he was going to do so. Others reported that the man had supposedly “buzzed” Mt. Rainier.
“There is the runway just about a mile off your right side, do you see that? That’s McCord field,” the controller tells the man.
“Aw man, those guys would rough me up if I tried landing there,” Rich says. “I think I might mess something up there too. I wouldn’t want to do that. Oh- they’ve probably got anti-aircraft…not quite ready to bring it down just yet. Holy smokes, I’ve got to stop looking at the fuel because it’s going down quick.”
At one point, the man reported that he threw up all over the cockpit, according to the audio.
“Keep the aircraft nice and low,” the tower responded to the man at one point, advising him to keep it over the water.
You can listen to more archived aviation audio on the incident here, some of which captures the man’s voice: